November 25, 2014

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Scott Petrak: Hiring Josh McDaniels as next Browns coach looks like big risk not worth taking

Josh McDaniels

Josh McDaniels

As rumors disguised as reports continue to circulate regarding the Browns’ search for a new coach, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels remains a constant in the discussion.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’m all for second chances, I just don’t think McDaniels’ should come with the Browns.

In his first stint as a head coach, McDaniels — who reportedly interviewed with the Browns on Saturday — started 6-0 with the Broncos in 2009. They finished 8-8, then went 3-9 the next year before he was fired with four games left.

After a season with awful numbers as coordinator for the Rams, he returned to the cocoon of New England. Two years later, he appears near or at the top of Cleveland’s wish list. It’s amazing what working for coach Bill Belichick and with quarterback Tom Brady can do for a guy’s image and resume.

We always knew McDaniels was a smart guy. His dad, Thom, was a longtime and successful high school coach in Northeast Ohio, and McDaniels quickly climbed the coaching ladder to trusted confidante of Belichick. He was only 32 when he was hired by the Broncos to not only coach, but run their football operations.

The question that hasn’t been answered is whether he can replicate Belichick’s success in his second stint in charge. Cleveland fans don’t have to be reminded that Belichick struggled as a young first-time head coach with the Browns before winning three Super Bowls with the Patriots.

I have serious doubts that McDaniels can do the same.

Belichick disciples Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini have both failed twice as head coaches — once each in Cleveland. Both vowed to learn from the mistakes of the first job, yet showed no progress.

The problem for the former Belichick assistants is that they’re not Belichick. Crennel was his own man, but Mangini and McDaniels copied Belichick’s overbearing, dictatorial style. Players bristled, and Mangini and McDaniels didn’t have Belichick’s track record of success to ease the transition.

For some unfathomable reason, the Broncos gave personnel decisions to McDaniels, who’d never been a head coach or a general manager.

He had mixed results drafting, but his undoing was the inability or unwillingness to work with quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall. He traded both Pro Bowlers.

I understand the desire of a coach to work with players he trusts. We saw Mangini get rid of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow for similar reasons. But a coach also must find a way to work with talent that’s complicated, and Marshall has shown he’s coachable and a perennial Pro Bowler.

McDaniels and the Broncos were also fined $50,000 each after the team’s video operations director filmed a 49ers walkthrough in London in 2010, breaking NFL rules. McDaniels said he didn’t watch the video but failed to promptly report it to the NFL.

The steep decline after the 6-0 start to his career should also raise red flags. Coach Rob Chudzinski was fired last week after not showing enough progress in the second half of his first season. McDaniels got a second year in Denver and got worse.

The best hope for the Browns is that the firing and return to coordinator status have humbled McDaniels, who’s still only 37. If he has learned from the failure and agrees that someone else should have say over the personnel, then he has a chance to succeed in his next job.

Browns general manager Michael Lombardi is counting on that.

“Firing McDaniels 28 games into his tenure as the head coach is bad for both parties,” Lombardi wrote as an analyst for NFL Network in 2010. “It wasn’t enough time for the team to be fully developed, or enough time for McDaniels to grow into the job.

“I believe McDaniels will one day be a successful head coach. I believe this because I know what it takes to be successful in the league. … McDaniels will learn from his tenure in Denver, just as Belichick learned from his time in Cleveland, and some other owner willing to change will benefit greatly.”

I’m not convinced he’s made that growth. And if I were Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, I wouldn’t take that chance.

The coaching search isn’t a simple one for Haslam and CEO Joe Banner. Super Bowl champions Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher aren’t interested in returning to the sideline, and they certainly wouldn’t accept an organizational structure with Banner in charge of personnel and Lombardi as general manager.

That leaves “retreads,” unproven NFL coordinators and the hot college coaches. Gone is the no-brainer, but not necessarily a future Super Bowl champion.

With Lovie Smith already hired by Tampa Bay, here are my top five choices for the Browns, in order: Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

McDaniels is nowhere on that list.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.


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  • bsf44

    Totally with you until you put Gase at the top of your list. What’s the logic? He’s a very green OC who coaches Peyton Manning. A lot like McDaniels coaching Brady when he got the Denver job.

  • BorisBulldog

    Funny how the Pats haven’t been a threat to win a SB since Crennel and Weiss left.